The app of all the rage this past weekend was Color. Boasting $41 million in pre-launch funding and a celebrity list of entreprenuers behind it, former Lala CEO, Bill Nguyen and former BillShrink CEO Peter Pham. What the app promises to do is make content, particularly photos and videos shareable between users of the app within 150 feet of each other. An update is imminent, increasing the distance to half a mile. Surprisingly, the app doesn't use GPS technology to gather content from around a user's phone, rather uses sound levels, Bluetooth readings, light readings, antenna strength, the time – even the direction you're pointing your phone, to determine proximity with other phones. This allows the app to function without being a drain on the phone's battery. Color has six patents pending for the technology used in the app. The app is currently free and is available for both iPhone and Android.

Design
When you look at the app, it takes a little getting used to because the design, in short, is very messy and could have been a little more
intuitive. For starters, when you start sharing the app with a group of people, it arranges everyone's photos in a 'drop down row' on the right hand side with thumbnail previews and the image in what the app makes it its full size is seen on the left. At first, it seems like this arrangement is just a random collage until a happy mistake makes you scroll the list of photos on the right and then you realize that those are previews. This, I think, could have been a different and better experience if the preview scroll was on the left side of the full image, given the way many people process information from left to right (there are exceptions of course). There is also a sideways list of people's profile pictures, whose images are in the shared content space. As you scroll through the pictures and they appear in the RHS box, the person whose picture it is gets highlighted. The shared content seems to only allow three pictures per person at this moment (and it's three of their latest pictures taken from within the app). By clicking on the RHS box, you're taken to the group's feed of images, where you can like and comment on pictures.

The view of shared photos with the preview scroll

The view of shared photos with the preview scroll

The icons in this 'newsfeed' screen are a bit confusing and actually mis-symbolized. In the bottom, middle of the screen, there is a heart icon, which traditionally would mean you like (or love) what you're seeing. By tapping it, you're actually taken to a list of sharing options (Facebook, Twitter, Email, and SMS). On the left side of the heart button, there's a left pointing arrow, which as indicated by logic, is a back button. On the right side of the heart, there's something that looks like a pair of spectacles with the handles twisted. This icon, also functions as a back button. When this same icon is on the screen with the preview scroll, it takes you to a feed of the various groups you've created (based on proximity and time) and all the pictures posted in each group. There's also a clock button, which when it shows a number, it indicates a notification. To take a picture, you have to tap the big Color icon in the bottom middle of the screen (unless you're on a page which has the heart in its place). Again, it was a happy mistake to learn that this is the icon you need to click on to take a picture. It would have just been a little more intellectual if there was a camera button in its place.

A newsfeed with a heart

A newsfeed with a heart

Features
The first thing you think of when you hear the description of this app is “Instagram”. The way this app is different from Instagram is how people are selected for media to be shared. Instagram has a list of accounts you can follow and be followed by. Color basically rounds up people from within 150 feet from each other and shares the last few pictures they took in app. While it might sound like a great way to meet people, you also should make sure you don't have pictures up there you want complete strangers to see. The other obvious distinction is, Instagram allows you to stylize your pictures while Color doesn't.

A collection of all the 'albums' you've ever created

A collection of all the 'albums' you've ever created

Beyond the design being overly complicated to work with, some of Color's features have some unintuitively difficult functions too. For instance, when the clock icon shows you that you have a notification, instead of taking you to a notification page when you tap on it, it takes you to an in between page of your group lists before you tap it again and it takes you to the notifications page. If you don't figure this out, you're permanently left with the annoying '1' on the clock. The fact that there are two versions of back buttons on the same screen seems a little unnecessary. Another thing I noticed was that you can take videos within the app (if you have a mobile device that permits it) but if you don't have a mobile device that can take videos, you can't play back videos shared within the app. Also, when you're sharing via the app, you can't share individual images, just entire newsfeeds of images which just serves to advertise the app and not actually share content.

Conclusion
With all the hype surrounding Color, quite frankly, I am disappointed. The layout is unnecessarily painful, the symbology isn't very logical and the concept itself is a little flawed. I can see the app doing well in crisis situations, for example, the Middle East situation where images of riots were shared all over the social networks, however, Color would only be helpful in this situation if everyone in your vicinity has the app. The relationship you share with people on Color is a relationship based on technology, which works in tech heavy places like San Francisco and arguably Bangalore, the app does little to validate real friends in your immediate vicinity. Sharing via Instagram is a lot more logical because you can directly post individual images to the social networks. 

The preview scroll and main image view

The preview scroll and main image view

Overall, I give this app a 4 on 10, cutting points for its complicated and uninttuitive layout, incompatibility issues, the lack of sharing options, the notifications feature, the mis-symbolization and just what it's promising to bring to the table in general. Sharing with people in your immediate vicinity is a cool concept if you're comfortable with the people in your immediate vicinity, assuming they're not your friends. However, except in emergency ssituations, or you're just desperate to break the ice in the room, I don't really see the point of the app's function.

Publish date: March 29, 2011 9:32 am| Modified date: December 18, 2013 7:31 pm

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